The invisible desperate to be seen; the invisible who should be seen. Issues of celebrity and recognition and popular acclaim are obvious topics for film to tackle, though the instant prominence that so high-profile a medium can grant can make for a tricky minefield -- not everyone deserves to be famous. Two films at Tribeca Film Festival illuminate people we don't know well: one we should, and one we shouldn't.
The Killing of John Lennon
My whole life has pointed in one direction. I can see that now.
All of Mark David Chapman's words are his own, we are informed at the beginning of this re-creation of the life of the murderer of Beatle John Lennon in the months leading up to the horrific and senseless crime. And that's the problem: we have only the perspective of a madman here, and it is no more enlightening than the ramblings of any given violent schizophrenic or criminal psychotic. I'm hard pressed to see, in fact, how this staccato, disjointed film differs morally in any way from the major media airings of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho's video manifesto. Filmmaker Andrew Piddington, a British TV director turning to feature films, does nothing but give Chapman more of what he has admitted and states here was his purpose in killing Lennon: to be famous, to be notorious. Jonas Ball does an impressive job of inhabiting Chapman's paranoid anxiety and psychoses (the ultralow-budget film fares far more poorly in its attempts to replicate 1980's New York), but without any larger context in which we can try to make sense of it, Ball's effort is for naught. Maybe there's no sense to be made of it at all -- but if that's the case, then why feed Chapman's delusions in the first place? [visit the film's IMDB page]
I looked him dead in the eye and I said, "Don't screw around, man. What happened?" And he told me, "Jerabek died."
Ryan Jerabek of Green Bay, Wisconsin, was a gung-ho 18-year-old Marine when he was killed in Iraq in April 2004, and just like the other more than 3,350 American soldiers who have died in this almost invisible war -- the latest meltdown of Britney Spears is bigger news than anything happening in Baghdad -- his death has gone unheralded and ignored. Until now. Documentarian Civia Tamarkin, a former CNN producer, introduces us to Jerabek's family -- his proud but anguished mother; his father, a former Marine himself and a Vietnam vet; his brothers, one of whom is contemplating going Marine as well -- and shows us with sensitive subtlety how Ryan's loss has impacted them. This is a personal film, a family album of grief, and it's made all the more powerfully, ironically, because of Ryan's ordinariness: we haven't lost a cure for cancer or a great symphony with his death -- he was a regular guy who liked to play video games; he was just, you know, a good guy. And that's devastating: Ryan and his family are a few of the many good, regular people whose patriotism and sense of honor and duty are being abused by this war. That's one of the angry political undercurrents Tamarkin does not shy from: She interviews Jerabek's platoon mates, who talk of being unprepared for job they were supposed to be doing, of feeling "like sitting ducks," of military incompetence and poor planning causing the attack in which Jerabek was killed. She gives us imagery of Ryan's funeral, imagery we never see on our TVs, the one thing the Bush administration does not want us to see: Marines as pallbearers carrying a flag-draped coffin. And she gives us what might be the defining image of the callousness of our leaders to the suffering they have wrought with their war. Though President Bush did not attend Jerabek's funeral, he did visit the Marine's parents during a campaign stop, and there's the photographic evidence: Bush with his arms thrown around the shoulders of Mr. and Mrs. Jerabek like he's at a party, grinning like a maniac, while the brokenhearted parents stare mournfully at the camera. [visit the film's official site]
MaryAnn Johanson (email me)
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